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47 groups sign agreement supporting nationwide passenger rail

(The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers issued the following press release on January 16.)

CHICAGO -- The Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers (OARP) today joined 46 other citizen advocacy organizations, associations of state officials, unions and corporations from across the country in signing on to the American Passenger Rail Agreement.

The agreement advocates the development and preservation of a nationwide, interconnected passenger rail system and calls on Congress and the Bush Administration to provide passenger rail with funding, policy development and oversight comparable to that given to highway, civil aviation, transit and waterway programs.

"America needs a balanced, integrated transportation system and the American people need diverse transportation choices," states the American Passenger Rail Agreement’s preamble. "Passenger rail is a critical component of a modern, multi-modal transportation system and needs to have financial support, unified policy development and oversight similar to that afforded to our air, highway and mass-transit modes."

"It is significant that this broad range of groups has agreed on a common set of principles for putting passenger rail on the ‘right track’," said Stu Nicholson, OARP administrative director. "Surface transportation, aviation and Amtrak programs all are up for reauthorization by Congress this year. We’re committed to educating Congress and the Administration on the importance of passenger rail to our national transportation system, and to seeing a revitalized, efficient, modern passenger rail system realized."

All transportation in the U.S. -- except intercity passenger rail -- has available to it long-term programs of federal infrastructure development.

"Is it any wonder that rail is the least-developed mode of travel in this country?" Nicholson asked. "If rail is to become more relevant and grow, it has to be brought under the same roof as the nation’s other transportation programs and given access to long-term federal funding, planning and oversight that made air and highway travel accessible to a wide range of Americans."

The agreement was signed by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the giant civil engineering firm Parsons-Brinckerhoff, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition (representing 22 state departments of transportation) and groups ranging from the Boston-based National Corridors Initiative to the Washington Association of Railroad Passengers.

The agreement calls on the federal government to "establish a dedicated, multi-year federal capital-funding program for intercity passenger rail, patterned after the existing federal highway, airport and mass-transit programs."

"Federal funding is the key," said Rick Harnish, president of the Midwest High Speed Rail Coalition. "All of the nation’s transportation programs struggled helplessly for decades until they won long-term federal funding -- first the highways in 1916, then the inland waterways in 1919, then the airports in 1946, and finally mass transit in 1975.

"Designing and building transportation infrastructure is a long-term process that requires steady, predictable funding over a multi-year time frame," Harnish added. "Annual congressional appropriations are too unpredictable to fund the civil-engineering improvements we need to make passenger train service fast, frequent and reliable."

The agreement, signed in Chicago, urges the Federal Railroad Administration or a similar agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation to "develop, fund and oversee" a new federal railroad-development policy, much as the Federal Aviation Administration plans and funds airport and air-traffic control improvements and the Federal Highway Administration develops the Interstate system.

The final statement in the American Passenger Rail Agreement calls upon Congress to provide full funding for Amtrak while a more advanced passenger rail system is being designed, so the national passenger rail operator can keep its nationwide fleet of trains operating and improve service levels.

"Passenger trains represent the next great leap in American mobility, but they will need billions of dollars of new track, new grade separations, new stations and high-tech signaling to become effective. Only the federal government can provide that kind of oversight and funding," Nicholson said.

OARP is a nonprofit, educational organization founded in 1973 to advocate for service and safety improvements to intercity passenger rail and urban transit services.

Friday, January 17, 2003

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